Category Archives: Tier1

1.1: Collect and examine data on behavior incidents to make disciplinary practices and policies more fair for all children

Using data icon

“Fairness, equity, and continuous improvement” in early childhood programs are crucial for improving school climate and school discipline, say the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. All programs need to set their own goals, monitor data to assess progress, and modify practices as needed to reach their fairness, equity, and improvement goals.

Collecting data to monitor your progress about disciplinary policies and practices can help in a number of ways:

  • Data can help you understand how exclusionary discipline is used at your school and help you see areas of policy and practice in need of change. In order to track a reduction in the use of suspension and expulsion, you must first clearly define what they are (e.g., suspension can be asking parents to pick up early, as well as asking the child to stay home for a number of days). Then you must keep records of how frequently and under what circumstances these practices are used. If programs do not pay regular attention to their discipline data, it will be hard to build on what works well or change a policy that does not work as well as hoped.
  • Data will let you track progress as you try new policies. Data can help you see whether you really are using less exclusionary discipline and applying discipline fairly across groups of children.
  • Finally, more transparency about how your program handles discipline can help the program/school community build trust, among staff, and with families and children. To do this, programs need to separate out discipline data by subgroups, including by race, gender, and children with Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSPs) or Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). These data should be publicly available. The data should include information about the characteristics of children in your program and disciplinary activities. This should include
    • the percentage of children who are White, Black, male, female;
    • the percentage of children who have an identified disability or IFSP/IEP; and
    • how many children of each group are suspended or expelled within a certain time frame.

Review of these data lets you and your program staff clearly see how often children are disciplined for various behaviors. These data also show whether there is disproportionality, meaning that certain groups of children are disciplined more or less often than other groups of children for the same types of behaviors.

How do I do this?

Infographic titled What do exclusionary practices look like in early childhood settings?

Use a standard format to document discipline (such as a behavior incident report form). Write down factors related to disproportionality for the children involved, such as their race, gender, and whether they have an IFSP/IEP. Also include time, place, antecedents, teacher or staff involved, and any disciplinary action taken, including suspension and expulsion. You may want to have teachers record efforts to use positive management strategies as well, so that they can focus on improving prevention support to reduce the need for exclusionary discipline.

  • Looking for a behavior incident report form template? See the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) Incident Report System.

Create a systematic process for recording discipline. This will encourage staff to be accountable for how they respond to children’s behaviors. This will also help staff be transparent. Stress that the information gathered will be used to make your program better and not to evaluate staff, and then stick to your word.
Create processes for entering and analyzing the data. Choose a staff member who will serve as “data champion.” This person will be responsible for entering and analyzing the data. Support this person in gaining the skills and the time necessary to do this work, such as learning to use Microsoft Excel for entering and managing the data. Set a timeline for how often data should be entered and analyzed, such as once a week, or twice a month.

  • This template from NCPMI can help track monthly program actions related to behavior incidents and concerns.
  • New Resource: This fact sheet from The Pyramid Equity Project explains different ways to look at disproportionality in discipline and behavior incidents.

Examine the data with staff in an open and constructive way. Aim to identify patterns in behavior incidents by child and by subgroups of children. For example, choose one child who struggles with behavior, and try to find out if the child is usually involved in incidents at the same time of day or with the same peer. Also examine whether there is disproportionality in discipline in your program/school. For instance, are certain groups (e.g., Black boys) being disciplined more often or more harshly than other groups for the same types of behaviors, or are some providers/teachers disciplining children more than others are?

Acknowledge challenges, set goals for improvement, and identify steps for achieving these goals. For example, if the data show that exclusionary discipline is often used as a response to children’s challenging behaviors, set goals to reduce suspensions and expulsions by a specific amount within a certain time frame. If the data show there is disproportionality, set goals to reduce this as well. Work with staff to write a plan with explicit steps for reaching these goals, including using strategies described under the other recommendations on this site, such as building cultural understanding between families and staff in order to minimize misconceptions and implicit biases that contribute to disproportionality in use of exclusionary discipline.

      • Continue to collect and analyze data as a way to see whether you are making progress toward these goals.
      • For a template form to track monthly program actions related to behavioral incidents and concerns, see this template from NCPMI.

Build in a process for follow-up support for children involved in behavior incidents. In addition to standardizing how you document incidents, standardize steps taken to support the child following an incident. This might include holding a parent meeting, referring to specialists when necessary, and having a behavior support plan in place (see Recommendations 3.1 and 3.2).

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: My staff may not have the time, resources, and skills needed to collect and analyze data.
Solution: We recognize that these are difficult challenges to overcome. Simple things such as asking teachers to take turns in entering discipline data, or asking an administrative assistant to act as “data champion” may help. Addressing them may also require getting creative and seeking resources in the community, such as local university students, who may be able to provide support and guidance on collecting and analyzing data. If you are able to put a data system in place, your efforts may be rewarded through beneficial “side effects,” such as increased adult accountability (due to having clear guidelines around what counts as a behavior incident that must be documented, including documenting the role the adult played) and some level of legal protection due to the existence of formal records that capture staff efforts. To easily enter, summarize, and look at graphs of data related to behavior incidents and program actions, use this Behavior Incident Report System created by NCPMI that is set up to do just that automatically.

Potential Barrier: Many providers/teachers and administrators base their decisions on their experience, intuition, and professional judgment, not on information that is collected systematically.
Solution: Inspire a change in perspective by educating staff about the benefits of data-driven (rather than intuition-driven) decision-making. These include avoiding biased judgments, being more consistent across staff and situations, and being able to measure change over time. Make the use of data as nonthreatening as possible by being transparent at every step. Talk with staff about how data can be used to complement and support their professional judgment, not replace it.

Potential Barrier: Some providers/teachers may not see or fully appreciate how their own behaviors and actions impact the behaviors and actions of the children they work with, which leads them to overlook useful data.
Solution: Again, inspire a change in perspective by educating staff about how their own behaviors and actions are related to those of the children they teach because of the back-and-forth nature of social interactions. How staff interact with children and address challenging behavior is an important aspect of the behavior incident that must also be examined, learned from, and improved on.

Potential Barrier: Data on disproportionality in suspensions and expulsions may be considered sensitive. Staff may have fears that information will be used politically or punitively, making staff mistrust or avoid data.
Solution: This is an understandable fear. Care must be taken to build trust among staff and administrators and to use findings from analyses only to improve the practice and support staff. Policies about data collection and use should be set through a collaborative process and then applied equally to all staff, regardless of role. For example, all staff will use a standardized behavior incident report to record incidents they are involved in. All staff will receive feedback on their approaches to addressing challenging behaviors and how often they used exclusionary discipline to respond to a child’s challenging behaviors in a certain time frame.

Where do I go for more resources?

      • New Resource: See this fact sheet from the Pyramid Equity Project on different ways that programs can look at disproportionality in discipline and behavior incidents.
      • For a complete behavior incident report system to collect and analyze behavior incidents in a program, see this package of tools from NCPMI—the tools are useful even if you aren’t using the Pyramid Model.
      • To track monthly program actions related to behavior incidents and concerns, see this template from NCPMI.
      • To learn more about Evidence Based Decision-Making, view this summary and guidance document.
      • Want tips on how to share data effectively with your staff and families? Check out the DaSy Data Visualization Toolkit.
      • For videos of family, practitioner, and administrator data use, see the Perspectives on Data Use videos from the DaSy Center.
      • Watch this 4 min. video of real teachers discussing how using data is just part of good teaching and how they benefit from using data.
      • This report from the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands (REL NE) identifies considerations for conducting analysis of child/student-level disciplinary data. These include the data elements to be used in the analysis and establishing rules for transparency. The report also covers examples of descriptive analyses that can be conducted by programs/districts to answer questions about the use of the disciplinary actions.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education. (2014). Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings. Retrieved from

Skiba, R. J. and Losen, D. J. (Winter 2015-2016). From recreation to prevention: Turning the page on school discipline. American Educator (pp. 4-11). Retrieved from

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1.2: Implement processes for developing family-program/school partnerships

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Decades of research studies confirm what professionals who work with children already know: children benefit when families and schools work together in partnership. Children whose families are actively engaged in their education have been shown to have better academic achievement, social skills, and behavior compared with children whose families do not participate. Family engagement has for many years been part of federal school policy. Title I schools are required to develop “school-family compacts.” These compacts describe how teachers, administrators, and staff will work and partner with families. State governments are also mandating that schools engage with families. For the benefit of young children, early childhood programs should work closely with families as well, especially around managing challenging behaviors that may disrupt a child’s time spent in the classroom. When families and school staff know, understand, and trust each other, children are less likely to be suspended and expelled.

How do I do this?

Make your program a welcoming place. Be positive when you talk with families. Make sure you start the relationship off right by having your first communication with a family be about something positive their child did, and overall there should be more positive communications than negatives ones. Use words and actions that convey respect, support, and appreciation. Researchers have found that parents are more likely to be involved in their child’s education when they feel invited to be involved by both the child and the program or school.

Learn more about the children and families in your program. Talk with both the children and adults about what life is like at home, or visit them at home when possible. This will help you and your staff understand a child’s home context—including culture, language, parenting practices, significant events or crises—and the way it may affect the child’s behavior in the classroom. These types of conversations will also help build empathetic, trusting relationships between program staff and families, in which both parties can see each other’s skills, strengths, and points of view.

Identify, promote, and formalize staff actions that facilitate partnership building. Bring your staff together to construct a family-school partnership plan that all staff can buy into. This plan should identify specific and actionable steps staff will take to build and improve the quality of partnerships with families. The plan might include fostering a respectful, two-way dialogue with families, giving them chances to have a presence in the classroom, learning about each other through home visits, and setting mutually agreed-on goals for the child. Staff should be held accountable for putting these steps into use, which will then become formal processes that all staff follow routinely. Examples of other specific steps you can take include:

  • Schedule activities at times that working families can attend.
  • Make sure communication occurs (and written resources are available) in families’ native languages, using staff or parent volunteers as translators.
  • Create a school directory so families can form a community with each other, if they wish.

Develop the capacity of your staff to work with and build close personal relationships with families.Positive relationships between staff and families protect against the use of exclusionary discipline. These relationships help because having an established relationship allows for more joint problem-solving, with parents and teachers talking about what happens at school, each offering their perspective, and working together to think about possible strategies to address the problems. Help staff recognize the benefits of family-school partnerships, and make positive relationship building with families an everyday goal. Address this goal as part of staff professional development. Identify specific staff training needs regarding partnering with families, such as whether they need help forming goal-oriented relationships with families or how to work with children with disabilities and their families. Where applicable, identify “cultural brokers” from among your staff (or parent volunteers) who are members of a minority culture and are willing to help facilitate interactions between families of this culture and staff and parents of other cultures. This can be especially helpful if there are staff available who speak the languages spoken in children’s homes.

Try to bridge cultural differences between home and program, especially those of socioeconomic class and race/ethnicity. Researchers have found that one reason middle class White families tend to be more involved at school is that schools (and their staff) tend to be middle class White institutions. This is an example of “cultural match.” These families speak the same language as the teachers, understand the unwritten social “rules” of the school, and feel able to treat school staff as equals. When school staff and families instead come from different backgrounds, there can be a “cultural mismatch.” Just as deeper understanding builds trust, misunderstanding can create mistrust. This can be due to lack of information or to overt or implicit bias. However, this does not mean cultural matches are naturally better for children than mismatches, and that we should always aim for a match as a solution to this problem. Instead, to help fix this problem, start by understanding your own cultural context and know the ways it may differ from those of the children attending your program. Avoid making assumptions about children’s families based on stereotypes or previous experiences with other “similar” families. Use open, honest, and direct communication to identify misconceptions you may have of them, or that they may have of you, and work to build more authentic relationships where both parties truly know each other. Below are a few tips for starting conversations, see the Resources section for more.

  • You can also invite parents into the school to share something representative of their culture (such as a holiday tradition or a food) with staff to begin the conversation, and then as relationships are built over time, progress to discussing potentially more sensitive topics such as parenting practices and behavioral expectations. Discussions can be held between parents and staff or just among staff.
  • Check out this resource for educators leading dialogue and reflection about diversity and equity. It includes steps to help you prepare, icebreakers, ways to reflect, and group activities.
  • Read a vignette to illustrate how assumptions can result in misunderstandings.

Empower parents to assert themselves as true partners. Researchers have found that parents are more likely to be involved in their children’s education when they feel confident in their ability to help their children do well both academically and in their social-emotional learning. You can encourage this feeling of confidence and power in parents by respecting their perspectives; letting them know that they have abilities, ideas, and knowledge that can help their children succeed; and being truly willing to engage them as partners in caring for and educating their children.

  • You can also work to increase parents’ understanding of child development whenever possible, so that they feel more knowledgeable and better able support their children’s growth. If you do not have the capacity to do this, connect them with other resources in the community that can, such as your local health department, community college, or Child Care Resource and Referral agency, which may provide classes or online information.
  • Also, don’t wait until there is a behavior incident or challenging behavior to talk with families! Having positive interactions with parents encourages them to stay engaged. It also helps them feel good about the role they are playing in guiding their children’s learning and behavior.

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: My staff and I are excited to engage families but are not getting many responses back.
Solution: Parents are sometimes unsure about engaging with providers/teachers in school and out of school. Many things can stop parents from wanting to engage: language barriers, lack of time or transportation, not understanding how much it can help their children, lack of confidence that they can make a difference, feeling that they are not welcome at the school, or previous bad experiences with schools. These are hard things for you as staff to work against, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort! Even though it may take time, showing genuine interest in including families will help improve classroom climate and help teachers better understand children. It may take time to build interest and trust from the families, but using some of the strategies we have outlined here persistently over time should pay off.

  • Hold school events at times when working families can join in. Let them visit your site and see the hard work you have put into making it inclusive and welcoming for families.
  • Start a home visiting program that will let your staff connect with families in their own space. This can help build a respectful connection between families and staff that will help children grow and give teachers a resource aside from suspensions and expulsions when behavior problems come up.
  • Try making a bulletin board that shows how many home visits staff have made and how many parents have visited the school. Show families and teachers what your goal is and the progress you have made.
  • Check out these 19 tips for engaging families from EdChange.

Potential Barrier: My staff and/or I am uncomfortable talking about cultural differences (in race/ethnicity, social class, etc.) between our staff and the families we serve, and the way this discomfort might affect our use of discipline in the program.
Solution: That is ok! Many people feel uncomfortable talking about cultural differences. Discussion and reflection are key to building cultural awareness and creating a positive program/school climate, so your willingness to try is very important!

  • Check out this resource for educators leading dialogue and reflection about diversity and equity. It includes steps to help you prepare, icebreakers, ways to reflect, and group activities.
  • This resource from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is directed at teachers working in their classrooms, but these tips on how to feel confident creating a positive environment for discussing diversity can be helpful for talking to staff.
  • Start small and then grow! Begin a conversation by talking about the posters and books that are available at your program and how making them reflect the population you serve can make the program feel more welcoming. Check out this list of children’s books on bias, diversity, and justice.
  • You can also invite parents into the school to share something representative of their culture (such as a holiday tradition or a food) with staff to begin the conversation, and then as relationships are built over time, progress to discussing potentially more sensitive topics such as parenting practices and behavioral expectations. Discussions can be held between parents and staff, or just among staff.

Where do I go for more resources?


Albright, M., Weissberg R., & Dusenbury, L (2011). School-family partnership strategies to enhance children’s social, emotional, and academic growth. Retrieved from

Gary, W.D., & Witherspoon, R. (2011). The power of family school community partnerships: A training resource manual. Retrieved from

Henderson, A.T. (2012). Family-school-community partnerships 2.0: Collaborative strategies to advance student learning. Retrieved from

Hoover-Dempsey, K.V. & Sandler, H.M. (1997). Why do parents become involved in their children’s education? Review of Educational Research, 67(1), 3-42.

Mapp, K.L. & Kuttner, P.J (2013). Partners in education: A dual capacity-building framework for family-school partnerships. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Policy Statement on Family Engagement from the Early Years to the Early Grades. Retrieved from

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1.3 Developmental Screening

1.3: Integrate developmental screening and assessment into the program/school

Developmental screening icon

Putting a universal screening and assessment process in use can support programs to foster children’s positive social-emotional development in order to prevent suspensions and expulsions. Universal screening is a fast and efficient way to identify children with potential areas of need or concern. Early identification through universal screening also helps programs match at-risk children with the services that benefit children and their families. This practice can result in stronger family partnerships (see Recommendation 1.2). It can also help establish formal collaborations with community partners to support the inclusion of young children with disabilities in your program. Targeted and intensive intervention services can help children who need them to begin and sustain positive relationships with their peers and with adults, possibly preventing and addressing the challenging behaviors that may lead to suspension and expulsion. For instance, many Head Start centers complete a social-emotional screener on all enrolled children within 45 days of the program start date. Screening is also a critical component of a multitiered system of support (to learn more, see Recommendation 1.8). To be most useful and beneficial to you and your program, it is important to use a universal screening and assessment tool that will provide accurate and specific information about what children know and are able to do.

A universal screening and assessment tool is characterized as a brief, cost-efficient tool that:

  • Is given to all children
  • Is accessible to all children (e.g., given in the child’s primary language)
  • Assesses critical skills and concepts
  • Is easy to administer and score
  • Has quick turnaround time so the information can be shared with teachers and relevant staff
  • Is reliable
  • Accurately describes children’s skills and competencies.

Accurate information about children’s social-emotional competencies and skills come from

  • multiple methods of assessment (e.g., direct observation and teacher ratings of behavior) and
  • multiple sources of information (e.g., number of absences from administrative records; medical records) that is gathered from
  • multiple informants (e.g., examining the correspondence between parent and teacher ratings and reports of behavior).

How do I do this?

Step 1. Select a screening tool. When you select a screening tool, consider

  1. the appropriateness of the screener for your context,
  2. the technical adequacy of the screener, and
  3. the usability of the information generated by the screener

Consider the following questions to determine the appropriate screener for your program:

  • When is the ideal time to assess children? How often should the tool be used?
  • What can we learn about children’s areas of concern and strengths by using this tool?
  • Have the format and content of the tool been used in past research and/or evaluation? What did other researchers and professionals learn about children from using the tool?
  • Is the assessment contextually, culturally, and developmentally appropriate? Does it make sense to use for the children in our program?

Looking for instruments to consider for universal screening and summaries of their technical adequacy and usability? Jump down to the lists and compilations in the Resources section.

Step 2. Determine the process for implementing the screening tool. This universal screener should be administered at the beginning of the school year to assess the achievement of developmental milestones for all children currently enrolled in the program. You will need to decide

  • when that screener will be administered and
  • by whom.

In general, administering the assessment with fidelity should be straightforward (e.g., it does not have a complex scoring procedure, or the complex scoring procedure should be streamlined). It would also be helpful to partner with local early intervention or early childhood special education programs to support your screening efforts. They may also offer practical advice, including suggestions for selecting screening tools, items, or tasks.

Step 3. Consider logistics and infrastructure needs. The assessment should not place a large burden on staff time or your program’s financial resources.

  • Consider that administering the assessment may require that children and, to a greater extent, providers/teachers will be taken out of instruction and care time.
  • Data collection, management, and interpretation require qualified staff, as well as tools that range from analytical software and a quiet testing space to personnel who can accommodate non-English speakers.
  • Additional personnel may be required. See section.
  • See the resources section for lists and compilations that summarize key characteristics such as the purpose of the instrument, cost of purchase, qualifications/training necessary to administer the tool – and can help in decision-making.

Step 4. Create staffing and implementation procedures. When preparing to put the screener in place, consider:

  • Staff selection. Select staff to administer the screening tool who have the qualifications and training required (if any) for the tool. If qualifications are not specified, think about who has the skill sets needed to:

  • Time to practice and debrief. If training is not required, it may be helpful for staff to practice giving the screener to each other or to a child who does not attend the program.

Step 5. Use the results to inform supports and services. When preparing to use the ratings and results from the screener to identify children in need of additional supports and services, consider:

  • Transforming scores into informed action. Once scores have been interpreted, they should be shared with providers/teachers, IDEA service providers, and families. If appropriate, a monitoring and follow-up procedure should be put in place.
  • What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

    Potential Barrier: How do we tell the difference between a rough week and clinically significant problems?
    Solution: We recommend that you use a standardized, validated tool that is psychometrically/technically sound. Such instruments provide specific guidance or interpretation of what scores mean, including the threshold for clinical significance. There are multiple benefits to using a standardized instrument, such that

    • individual items have been closely studied to determine whether the tool meets the technical standards established through research, and
    • scores are computed based on nationally representative samples, allowing good comparisons with other children of the same age.

    To make a determination about a child’s risk status, it is useful to compare performance or behavior relative to a similar group of peers (e.g., Does this child perform or behave similarly to other English language learning boys his age?). Local (school-, district-, or state-level) or national norms can also be used. Local norms may be especially useful for identifying the lowest performing children, but national norms tend to be more stable across subgroups over time.

    Potential Barrier: My program is worried about misidentifying children.
    Solution: When children are misidentified, it can lead to missed opportunities for instruction and intervention services or reduced opportunities for learning and growth. False positives and false negatives can also be prevented through initial and ongoing training for staff on how to implement the tool with fidelity.

    • Invest the time to participate in the training recommended by the tool developers.
    • Arrange for your staff to have opportunities to practice administering the tool to children before the screener is formally implemented.
    • Provide a mechanism for those administering the screening to check in with each other, as well as with an expert in the tool or expert in assessment (e.g., program/school psychologist, psychologist through local university). These meetings help ensure that screening administrators are scoring consistently with each other and their actions and interpretations are in-line with the guidelines provided by the manual or best assessment practices.
      • For example, a staff member may have a question about whether or not a child’s behavior should be interpreted as aggressive. This question could be posed to the group, who may also witness such behavior. The group, ideally led by an expert or master teacher/practitioner or coach, should come to a consensus about whether that behavior should be considered aggressive.

    Potential Barrier: How can my program make sure the screening results and data are used in a meaningful way?
    Solution: It is important that you hear the reactions and requests of providers/teachers and other staff who work with the children on a day-to-day basis on what information and data would be useful to them in their work.

    • For example, consider sharing the screening options with your staff and having a conversation about the pros and cons of each tool. Consider structuring the conversation using the following prompts:
      • Is this information useful? Why or why not? If not, what would make this information more useful?
      • Can you see yourself using such information in your day-to-day work (e.g., planning group work or activities; diagnostic criteria)?
      • Can you think of an example of when this information will be used or useful?
    • Providers/teachers are more likely to participate in screening when the data
      • help to solve a high-priority problem or question,
      • do not require excessive effort to administer, and
      • are central to the core mission and values of the program/school.

      Potential Barrier: My program doesn’t have the resources or funding to conduct universal screening.
      Solution: Your local Child Care Resource and Referral agency can help you find local free and low-cost training opportunities. They can also help you find grants for additional funding and resources.

      • You can locate Child Care Resource and Referral agencies in your area through Child Care Aware’s search tool. Its State by State Resource Map can point you in the right direction for local resources on child care, health and social services, financial assistance, support for children with special needs, and more.
      • Another approach is to refer that child and their families to local early intervention service (EIS) providers or to the local school district. Your local EIS or school district will contact the family to arrange for an evaluation to determine if a child is eligible for infant and early intervention or preschool special education services.
        • The Birth to Five website summarizes the general steps that should be followed when a child is being considered for early intervention services.

      Potential Barrier: My program doesn’t have the right staff or enough staff to do universal screening.
      Solution: Consider building partnerships with your local universities and/or colleges. They may have the human resources necessary to implement screening into your program. Colleges of Education as well as Psychology Departments are filled with undergraduate and graduate students who would benefit from internships that will help them to translate academic knowledge from coursework into relevant professional skills. Having preservice teachers administer the assessment for course credit is cost-effective and provides students with the opportunity to work one-on-one with a child in a program setting. Educational psychologists would also benefit from such experiences, given the centrality of assessment in their training.

      Where do I go for more resources?

      • Looking for screening and assessment specific to social-emotional development? The Developmental screening and assessment instruments with an emphasis on social-emotional development for young children ages birth through five compiled by the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center at the University of North Carolina, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. This document contains a helpful list of instruments in a table that is organized by instrument name; provides a brief description, the appropriate age range on which the instrument can be used, the time it takes to administer the tool, how scoring works, and psychometric information (if available); and identifies the most appropriate party to administer the instrument (e.g., parent, practitioner, home visitor).
      • The Screening for social-emotional concerns: Considerations in the selection of instruments brief developed by the Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention (TACSEI) includes profiles on several validated assessment and screening tools. The profiles include summaries of the properties of each tool:
        • Utility
        • Acceptability
        • Authenticity and equity
        • Congruence and sensitivity
        • Collaboration and convergence
        • Time to administer and score
        • Age range
        • Readability
        • Cost
        • Data management system
      • Looking for a comprehensive list of screening tools for young children? Check out Early childhood developmental screening: A compendium of measures for children ages birth to five, developed by the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) and Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This document also describes the standards that instruments need to meet in order to be considered “technically adequate” (read: reliable and valid). It also contains profiles of 16 individual measures. Information includes:
        • Background and purpose of instrument
        • Availability and cost
        • Training and other requirements for assessors
        • Information reporting system
        • Approaches to family/parent input
        • Options for use with special and diverse populations
        • Characteristics of the norming sample
        • Reliability and validity information
        • Follow-up guidance
      • In the process of selecting a developmental and behavioral screening tool to use as part of early childhood mental health consultation? Check out the Early childhood mental health consultation: An evaluation tool kit. The purpose of this tool kit is to increase capacity to evaluate the quality of early childhood mental health programs and services. Appendix C contains a list of outcome measures appropriate for providers/teachers to administer. If you are interested in childhood mental health consultation, please see Recommendation 2.1) of this guide.
      • Looking for more resources to promote universal screening? Go to the Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! website. Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! is a coordinated federal effort to encourage healthy child development, universal developmental and behavioral screening for children, and support for the families and providers who care for them. There are links to resources for families and different kinds of providers serving infants, toddlers, and young children.
      • Need training materials for your staff on developmental screening or resources for families? Go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Learn the Signs, Act Early website. This CDC site has resources for tracking children’s milestones from birth through age 5, including training modules for staff. If parents have concerns about their children’s development, suggested follow-up steps are provided.
      • Want a way to involve families in early identification of concerns? Easter Seals Offers a Free, Confidential Online Screening Tool: Ages and Stages Questionnaire, Third Edition (ASQ-3). This screening tool will help families guide and keep track of their children’s growth and development during the first 5 years. The questionnaire takes 10 to 20 minutes, and families are encouraged to come back and learn about their children’s development over time.
      • If you work alongside a school psychologist or partner with an educational psychologist and are interested in issues related to technical adequacy, please see Principle IV-C2 of the National Association of School Psychologists’ Professional Conduct Manual (2000).
      • If you are interested in reading more about assessments and screening tools, see the NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) blog.


      American Education Research Association & American Psychological Association. (1999). NCME: Standards for educational and psychological testing. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

      Glover, T.A., & Albers, C.A. (2007). Considerations for evaluating universal screening assessments. Journal of School Psychology, 45, 117-135.

      Hepburn, K. S., Kaufmann, R. K., Perry, D. F., Allen, M. D., Brennan, E. M., & Green, B. L. (2007). Early childhood mental health consultation: An evaluation tool kit. Washington, DC: Georgetown University, Technical Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health; Johns Hopkins University, Women’s and Children’s Health Policy Center; and Portland State University, Research and Training Center on Family Support and Children’s Mental Health. Retrieved from

      U.S. Department of Education and Health and Human Services (2015). Policy Statement on Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Early Childhood Programs. Retrieved from

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    1.4: Implement and use appropriate teacher-child ratios

    Teacher-child ratio icon

    Appropriate teacher-child ratios are one of the main aspects of a high-quality early childhood program. Studies show that lower class sizes and smaller teacher-child ratios may improve child outcomes, help reduce behavior problems, lower rates of special education placements, reduce teacher stress, and improve the teacher’s experience. Recent data also suggest that children of color are more likely than White children to be taught in preschools with teacher-child ratios that are too high. This lowers program quality and the quality of the teacher’s relationship with his or her children. Classrooms with higher teacher-child ratios are more likely to report expulsions and suspensions in state preschool programs. According to the National Prekindergarten Study, 12.7% of teachers with a classroom ratio of 12:1 or higher reported one of their children being expelled, compared with 7.7% of teachers with a classroom ratio of 8:1. Appropriate teacher-child ratios can promote stronger teacher-child relationships, improve child outcomes, and enhance the overall experience for both the teacher and children.

    How do I do this?

    Collect Data. Do you know what your class size data look like? Start by collecting data around your program’s class sizes and calculate a teacher-child ratio. Next, collect data around the number of suspensions and expulsions in your program, broken down by teacher-child ratio. How does your program’s ratio compare with your state’s recommendations or requirements? How does your program’s ratio compare with those recommended by NAEYC or the 2016 Head Start Program Performance Standards (see below)?

    NAEYC Teacher-Child Ratios within the Group Size Chart

    Head Start Program Performance Standards on Teacher-Child Ratios

    Program Option
    Age of Children
    Group Size
    Adult/Child Ratio/Case Load
    Center Based 0-3 years 8 1 Teacher for every 4 children 1302.21(b)(2)
    Center Based 4-5 years 17-20 children, with a maximum of 20 children enrolled in any one class. 2 paid staff people per class – Teacher and Teacher Aide, or Two Teachers. 1302.21(b)(3)(4)
      3 years 15-17 children, with a maximum of 17 children enrolled in any one class.    
      3 years 13-15 children. With a maximum of 15 children    
    Home Based 0-5 years old Individual Family Home visit – One home visit per week that is at minimum 1.5 hour
    Provide, at minimum, 22 group solicitation activities over the course of the year
    Case Load of 10-12 children with a maximum of 12 1302.22(c)
    Family Childcare 0-5 years With one child care provider: Maximum group size is 6 children with no more than 2 children under the age of 2. Child Care Provider’s own children under the age of 6 must be counted in the ratio when they are home 1302.23(b)
      Infants and toddlers One child care provider may care for 4 infants and toddlers with no more than 2 under the age of 18 months.    

    Use the Data to Move Forward. Use these data to help assess your program’s needs and areas for improvement. Using the data you collected, consider the following questions provided by New York City’s Department of Education. These questions can help guide your next steps toward implementing a better teacher-child ratio. (The full article and list of questions can be found in the memo.)

    • Where can I target class size reduction or other personalization efforts to impact the highest need populations?
    • How can I optimize my budget to achieve class size reduction?
    • How will class size reduction impact my staffing plan?
    • How can I use my current space to open additional classes?
    • Would creative scheduling of staff and space allow me to reduce class size or teacher-to-child ratio?
    • What kinds of professional development/support will my staff need to ensure that children receive the full instructional benefits of reduced class sizes?
    • If I plan to reduce my class sizes, how can I ensure that my smaller class sizes will be preserved in light of enrollment and facilities policies?

    Taking gradual steps toward reducing class size will help keep cost increases small while promoting better child outcomes and teacher-child relationships. These data may also be used by public preschool programs and policy makers to advocate for more resources on a district, state, or national level.

    Weigh the Costs and Benefits. Although there are costs that come with class size reduction, some of those added costs may be offset by savings that can be made from reducing teacher-child ratios. For example, staff turnover can be lowered when teacher-child ratios are smaller and classrooms more manageable. This reduction in turnover could reduce the costs associated with hiring and training of new staff members. Less supervision may also be required for teachers in smaller classes.

    What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

    Potential Barrier: My program doesn’t have the resources to reduce teacher-child ratios.
    Solutions: Although there is no set cost for class size reduction, many school programs may have difficulty finding the necessary resources. Parent volunteers and student teachers or interns may also be able to serve as aides in classrooms and offer additional support to providers/teachers.

    Where do I go for more resources?

    • Want to learn more on the benefits of small classroom size and low teacher-child ratios? Read Class Size: What’s the Best Fit? by Steven Barnett, Karen Schulman, and Rima Shore, published by the National Institute for Early Education Research.
    • Curious about the return on the investment in reducing class size? Read the policy brief by the NEA Education Policy and Practice Department.
    • Need a list of guiding questions to help your program plan for class size reduction? Check out a memo written by New York City’s Department of Education.
    • Want to know what is the recommended ratio for your program? Take a look at the Teacher-Child Ratios suggested by NAEYC or 2016 Head Start Program Performance Standards.


    Barnett, Steve., Schulman, Karen., and Shore, Rima. (2004). Class Size: What’s the Best Fit? National Institute for Early Education Research, 9, 1-12. Retrieved from

    FCD Policy Brief Series, (3), 1-8. Retrieved from

    Hidden curriculum (2014, August 26). In S. Abbott (Ed.), The glossary of education reform. Retrieved from

    Howes, Carollee and Robert Pianta. (2005). Features of Pre-Kindergarten Programs, Classrooms, and Teachers: Do They Predict Observed Classroom Quality and Child-Teacher Interactions? Applied Developmental Science, 9(3), 144-159. Retrieved from

    NEA. (2008). Class Size Reduction: A Proven Reform Strategy. NEA Education Policy and Practice Department. Retrieved from

    Rashid, H. M. (2009). From brilliant baby to child placed at risk: The perilous path of African American boys in early childhood education. The Journal of Negro Education, 78(3), 347-358,363. Retrieved from

    US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Education. (2014). Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings. Retrieved from

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    1.5: Provide reasonable provider/teacher work hours with breaks

    Teacher work hours icon

    Early childhood providers/teachers are among the most important people in the social, emotional, and academic development of our young children. The average workday of an early childhood provider/teacher can include many responsibilities: providing direct child care, completing administrative tasks, communicating with parents and guardians, and planning lessons. Providers/teachers may have little to no downtime during their workday. Interviews and surveys of providers/teachers reveal that time pressures are among the most common causes of stress. In a 2012 study, nearly all providers/teachers surveyed reported stress due to the time demands of teaching. The stress caused by time constraints can hinder a provider/teacher’s sense of control over his or her classroom and hinder his or her emotional stability. A study of state-funded preschools found that teachers who report elevated levels of job stress are more likely to suspend or expel children than teachers who report average or low stress.

    In the Joint Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policy in Early Childhood Settings, the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services recommend that childhood programs “promote teacher health and wellness and ensure that teachers work reasonable hours with breaks.” By allowing providers/teachers to have breaks and time away from the children, teachers may be able to better manage their stress and strengthen the quality of their relationships with their children.

    How do I do this?

    Have providers/teachers journal their time spent. Providers/teachers can record the time they spend throughout the day and share this record with the administrator or program. Ask them to record specifically the times when they have breaks during the day, if any, and the points when they feel the most stressed. Teachers can use the day planner guide provided by the Virtual Lab School to help record their thoughts, challenges, and experiences for all of their daily activities.

    Evaluate the program’s daily schedule. Program directors and providers/teachers can take a critical look at their existing schedule. Use your program’s answers to the day planner guide to help you evaluate the schedule. What do their responses reveal? Program directors and providers/teachers can take a critical look at their existing schedule. Are there numerous times of transition? Do the times of transition correspond with when teachers feel most stressed? Does the schedule allow for any reasonable breaks for the providers/teachers? Determine whether there may be ways for the schedule to be adjusted to allow for brief breaks for the teachers throughout the day and fewer transitions.

    Adjust classroom schedule. On the basis of the providers’/teachers’ and director’s evaluation of the schedule, make the necessary changes to the schedule that will best suit the children’s and providers’/teachers’ needs.

    Allow time for other responsibilities. Incorporate intentional time into the schedule for teachers to complete administrative and other tasks outside of direct child care responsibilities. Providing opportunities where teachers can complete more of their responsibilities during work hours can reduce the amount of work spent at home and help reduce stress. Take advantage of staff meetings to have providers/teachers share their approaches to create the sense of a support group and professional development among staff.

    What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

    Potential Barrier: My program has difficulty finding time for staff to take breaks away from children because of our limited resources and staffing shortages.
    Solution: For programs located in the same building as an elementary school, other trained and qualified instructors may be able to help provide additional support for those preschool teachers. Parent volunteers, student teachers or interns, and even nonprofit providers may also be able to help monitor preschool classrooms and offer additional support to providers/teachers.

    Potential Barrier: We are a very small program and do not have additional staff to support breaks.
    Solution: Consider investing in professional development or in-service days for staff so they get a break. You could also use trained volunteers to help allow for provider/teacher breaks and time management throughout the day. To do this, you could explore partnering with a local college to find early childhood education student interns.

    • Check out the list of resources created by the University of California at Los Angeles to help you initiate a volunteer program in your program or school.
    • Take a look at the sample schedule below to see how the lead teacher, a teacher aide, and volunteers can work together to staff an entire preschool day and allow for teacher breaks.


    Where do I go for more resources?

    • Supportive Environmental Quality Underlying Adult Learning (SEQUAL) is a multipurpose tool designed to help early childhood programs examine and improve the workplace environments for their teaching staff. The tool can be used by programs to assess what areas of the workplace environment are supporting best practices and what areas are hindering best practices.
    • Check out the list of resources created by the University of California at Los Angeles to help you initiate a volunteer program in your program or school.
    • Children are more likely to engage in challenging behavior during times of transition when they are moving from one activity to another. Transition times can often be stressful experiences for teachers. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) suggests that adjusting the schedule to minimize transitions can help decrease instances of challenging behavior. See below for an example of a schedule revised to minimize transitions, and check out NAEYC’s guide for tips on creating an effective transition plan.
      Source: Moving Right Along…Planning Transitions to Prevent Challenging Behavior, 2008
    • You can also check out Recommendations 2.2 and 2.3 to learn more about strategies that help promote a supportive environment and children’s positive social-emotional development. These strategies can help decrease and prevent challenging behaviors.


    Day, C., and Quing, Gu. (2009). Teacher Emotions: Well Being and Effectiveness. Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project, Advances in Teacher Emotion Research (pp. 15-31). Retrieved from

    Gillam, W. and Golan, S. (2006). Preschool and Child Care Expulsion and Suspension: Rates and Predictors in One State. Infants and Young Children, 19(3), 228-245.

    Gooze, R., Whitaker, R., and Dearth-Wesley, T. (2015). Workplace Stress and the Quality of Teacher-Children Relationships in Head Start. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 30, 57-69.

    Hemmeter, M.L., Ostrosky, M., Artman, K., and Kinder, K. (2008). Planning Transitions to Prevent Challenging Behavior. NAEYC. Retrieved from

    US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Education. (2014). Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings. Retrieved from

    Ylitapio-Mantyla, O., Uusiautti, S., & Maatta, K. (2012). Critical viewpoint to early childhood education teachers’ well-being at work. International Journal of Human Sciences, 9 (1), 458–483.

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    1.6: Create a culture of support and collaboration among staff

    Supportive staff culture icon

    Teaching young children can be joyful and rewarding. However it can also be physically and emotionally demanding, as well as socially isolating. Research supports that teaching is a stressful occupation, and that stress can affect the quality of the education and care early childhood educators provide. One study found that teachers who feel more stress at work are more likely to expel at least one child annually. In addition, children who present persistent or unique behavior problems can quickly exhaust the strategies an individual provider/teacher knows. To address feelings of stress and isolation, research has highlighted the importance of working in a program/school with a positive atmosphere of social support.

    Social relationships and opportunities for staff to collaborate and solve problems as a team play a crucial role in reducing provider/teacher stress and supporting teachers in managing child behavior. Fellow teachers can offer support by brainstorming ideas, sharing guidance and advice based on their own experience, and providing encouragement. In addition, research suggests that in schools in which teachers have trusting relationships with their peers, teachers are more willing to learn and try new practices.

    How do I do this?

    Provide time and structures for collaborative teams to meet. Build collaborative weekly or biweekly team meetings into providers’/teachers’ schedules. These meetings should be led by a team member without another leadership role. Instruct providers/teachers to develop action-oriented agendas for these meetings. These should include discussion of challenging behaviors they are facing, intervention strategies to cope with challenges, and relevant resources that can help. Encourage providers/teachers to reserve time at the end of each meeting to evaluate the meeting and talk about ideas for improving the collaborative process.

    • For more ideas on promoting a collaborative culture, view this case study on one school’s approach to using teacher collaboration to foster a supportive professional culture, lessen teacher conflict, and promote school-wide best practices.

    Identify provider/teacher leaders. Teacher leadership roles offer educators the chance to work with adults outside of their classroom. Teacher leaders can help build a culture of collaboration in which educators can share experiences, provide mentorship, gather resources, and work together to solve classroom problems. During meetings or professional development, some providers/teachers may stand out as having strong interpersonal skills, teaching experience, and knowledge. These providers/teachers may be effective provider/teacher leaders. They could serve as a liaison between providers/teachers and program leaders, facilitate collaborative team meetings, or mentor other teachers. Provide teacher leaders with the time, resources, and training needed to develop their skills and take on such roles.

    Build trusting relationships with staff. As an administrator, you need to be clear about expectations and enforce policies, but to build a culture of social support and collaboration, you also need to make sure teachers feel comfortable bringing up problems and discussing solutions.

    • Visit with teachers before and after program hours to informally check-in, or volunteer to help out in their classroom.
    • Maintain an ‘open door policy’ that lets teachers voice concerns or alternative viewpoints and have productive conversations with program leaders.
    • Program leaders and providers/teachers should refer to children as “ours” as opposed to “yours/mine” and focus on mutual growth and improvement.
    • For more tips for leaders on promoting a more open school culture, see the Edutopia blog post Cultivating a New Leadership Archetype.

    What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

    Potential Barrier: It is hard to find the time for collaboration.
    Solution: Early childhood educators have full schedules and are likely to be already working additional hours outside of the classroom. They also may be concerned that time spent in team meetings will take away from instruction, or that meetings are a “waste of time” because of past experience with meetings that are spent talking about logistical information or updates.

    • To address this barrier, you can attempt to build time for collaborative team meetings into the master schedule at the beginning of the year, so that meetings do not need to be held after work hours. Look for chances during the school day in which volunteers or aides can cover for providers/teachers for a short time so that providers/teachers can spend this time collaborating.
    • Alternatively, you may be able to better use meetings that are already being held by sending out general updates before the meetings and devoting more time to collaboration.
    • You can also use technology to create virtual meeting opportunities, as well as enhance communication and sharing among staff through email, discussion boards, resource banks, and forums.

    Where do I go for more resources?

    • For additional information on developing peer leaders, Building a School Culture that Supports Teacher Leadership offers advice from teachers and principals in Massachusetts elementary and secondary schools.
    • The blog post Caring for Teachers Supports SEL for Students on Edutopia includes even more ideas for effectively supporting staff.
    • If you are interested in forming professional learning communities (PLCs), or small groups of educators with shared interests who work together to expand their knowledge and improve their craft, check out this PLC facilitators guide.
    • If your program is small or educators have limited experience, online PLCs can offer support from many educators and experts. offers a Classroom Management for Early Learning online PLC that includes webinars, a resource library, and a discussion forum.
    • Need more strategies for building trust among educators and between educators and the administration? The booklet Building Trusting Relationships for School Improvement offers lots of strategies for program leaders to build and maintain trust with and among educators.
    • Experiencing deeply disturbing events or situations (i.e., trauma) can affect the way a person learns, plans, and interacts with others. This can have profound implications for how providers/teachers interact with children, families, and each other. This resource guide from the Department of Health and Human Services provides an overview and a range of resources on trauma-informed care.


    Bryk, A. S., & Schneider, B. (2003). Trust in schools: A core resource for school reform. Educational leadership, 60(6), 40-45.

    Cook, L., & Friend, M. (1991). Principles for the practice of collaboration in schools. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 35(4), 6-9.

    Gilliam, W. S., & Shahar, G. (2006). Preschool and child care expulsion and suspension: Rates and predictors in one state. Infants & Young Children, 19(3), 228-245.

    Imel, S. (1991). Collaborative learning in adult education. ERIC Clearinghouse.

    Kelly, A. L., & Berthelsen, D. C. (1995). Preschool teachers’ experiences of stress. Teaching and Teacher Education, 11(4), 345-357.

    Kyriacou, C. (1987). Teacher stress and burnout: An international review. Educational Research, 29(2), 146-152.

    Laycock, V. K., Gable, R. A., & Korinek, L. (1991). Alternative structures for collaboration in the delivery of special services. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 35(4), 15-18.

    Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2015). Building a School Culture that Supports Teacher Leadership. Retrieved from

    Punch, K. F., & Tuetteman, E. (1996). Reducing teacher stress: The effects of support in the work environment. Research in Education, (56), 63.

    Sheffield, D., Dobbie, D., & Carroll, D. (1994). Stress, social support, and psychological and physical wellbeing in secondary school teachers. Work & Stress, 8(3), 235-243.

    York-Barr, J., & Duke, K. (2004). What do we know about teacher leadership? Findings from two decades of scholarship. Review of Educational Research, 74(3), 255-316.

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    1.7: Train staff on cultural awareness and implicit biases, focusing specifically on bias based on race, gender, and mental and physical ability

    Cultural awareness icon

    Disproportionality exists in early childhood suspensions and expulsions by age, gender, race, and ability. Studies have found that providers/teachers are more likely to suspend or expel children who are Black, boys, and older (e.g., 4-year-olds). Studies of school-age children have also found that schools are more likely to suspend or expel lower income children and children with a disability. fact, children of color, boys, and children with disabilities are likely to be more harshly disciplined than other children for the same behaviors. They are also more likely to be disciplined for behaviors that are not well defined, such as “having a bad attitude.”

    Implicit bias contributes to the discipline gap, especially for Black boys. If teachers expect bad behavior, they watch children more closely and punish them more often. Infographic defining implicit bias
    Everyone has some implicit biases; it is part of being human. Our implicit biases often come out when we must make quick decisions under stress, and we may end up relying on unconscious stereotypes. Implicit biases become harmful when they affect decisions made about how children are treated at school, which in turn affects their chances at succeeding in school and later in life. By working to consciously and intentionally recognize and overcome our biases, we can stop them from having a negative effect on the way we interact with children and families. This will help all children succeed and help reduce suspensions and expulsions, especially for boys, children of color, and children with disabilities.

    “At the end of the day, the question is not whether or not we have bias. The question is how we can address it.” – Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Childhood Development, Administration for Children and Families

    Although implicit biases are difficult to recognize and overcome, studies show that discussion of and self-reflection on biases, cultural awareness training, and using resources such as Culturally Responsive Teaching can help overcome biases. Cultural awareness is important because people from different cultures may behave differently in the same situation or might perceive the same behavior in different ways. Cultural awareness, especially about behavior, can help teachers understand their children and their motivations and change the way they use discipline. However, implicit biases are not addressed by only understanding other cultures. Adult self-awareness is critical. Adults must also engage in self-reflection and work to understand what they bring to the table in their perceptions and experiences. By working to understand themselves and their students, providers can help shrink the discipline gap and promote equity and justice for young children throughout their lives.

    “We have to be courageous enough to have conversations that make us uncomfortable.” – Lisa Williams

    For more information, watch this TED talk by Rosemarie Allen:

    How do I do this?

    Step 1. Discuss and reflect.

    • Have conversations with your staff. Conversations about bias should be approached sensitively and carefully. Start by talking about how bias is normal, the important thing is how we think about our biases and how they affect our behavior. Noticing differences between people is natural and normal. It is very possible to learn not to judge people based on those differences.
    • Work with your staff to set norms for your discussion. These might include the following:
    • Create formal (but safe and supportive) ways for staff to discuss and reflect on such issues as:
    • You don’t have to make a plan for having a conversation about equity by yourself!
    • Stress the negative effects of disproportionality on education and social outcomes, particularly for Black children and children with disabilities.Emphasize that the goal is to create a positive school climate where all children can thrive.
    • Set a clear purpose and goals in all discussions. This may include a guide or checklist of topics to talk about and data that show what disproportionality looks like (see Recommendation 1.1). You and your staff can watch this video of Rosemarie Allen talking about how important it is for educators to reflect and understand themselves if we want to reduce the effects of implicit bias and stop suspensions and expulsions.
    • Here are a few more helpful resources to promote discussion and reflection:

    Step 2. Identify training needs. Use professional development to make sure that discussion and reflection effects improvements in practice.

    • Teaching Tolerance has a free professional development webinar series about reducing prejudice, improving relationships between different groups, and promoting equity.
    • Talk to your staff and try to answer these questions about the kind of professional development you need:
      • Where does training need to be targeted?
      • Do staff have any requests or skills they want to build? Use this outline of the skills early childhood workers should have to guide your professional development needs. It includes skills for inclusiveness of all cultures, languages, needs, and abilities.

    Step 3. Create formal policies and procedures to reduce discipline disproportionality.

    Step 4. Express gratitude and acknowledge progress. After training and developing or revising policies, reflect again with staff on current strengths and needs, and plan a course of action. Recognize staff who have worked hard and made progress using new practices. Encourage teachers to acknowledge one another, as well. This creates a culture of support and recognition.

    • In regular staff emails or newsletters, add a “shout out” section where administrators and other staff can submit a brief comment about a colleague’s hard work (e.g., “Thanks Ms. Johnson for reflecting and talking honestly and encouraging others during professional development. Your time and dedication to this process are greatly appreciated!”).
    • Administrators can personally call or send handwritten notes to thank teachers who are working hard to put training into practice and reflect on their teaching practices. Let your staff know that you see their hard work!

    What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

    Potential Barrier: My staff and/or I am uncomfortable talking about race, gender, ability, and our own biases and the way they affect discipline and our interactions with children.
    Solution: That is OK! Many people feel uncomfortable talking about implicit bias and inequity. Everyone has implicit biases, and being willing to have a conversation is an important step to meeting the needs of all children. Before starting a conversation about implicit bias, inequity, and discipline, create a safe and welcoming space for staff to have an honest conversation. Work as a group to create ground rules for how everyone will contribute. Check out this blog post that walks you through steps for leading a conversation on equity and this resource for educators leading dialogue and reflection about diversity and equity. It includes steps to help you prepare, suggestions for ground rules, icebreakers, ways to reflect, and group activities.

    Potential Barrier: I don’t have access to professional development resources to train my staff in cultural awareness or to help us talk about our implicit biases.
    Solution: There are many wonderful, free resources online for educators working to reduce implicit bias and promote equity in their schools. Many of them are listed throughout this guide. For example, check out the Anti-Defamation League’s page specifically created for early childhood providers interested in anti-bias education.

    Where do I go for more resources?

    • Check out Teaching Tolerance (SPLC) to learn more about why we need equity in schools and how to build a positive school climate and find lots of great resources for yourself, your staff, and your children.
    • For more information on positive school climates, check out the School Climate page from the National Center on Supportive Learning Environments.
    • For more information on anti-bias education, check out this toolkit from the NAEYC.
    • Edutopia has many resources to help learn about Culturally Responsive Teaching.
    • Looking for even more free resources to help carry out some of these steps in your school or program? Inclusive Schools Network provides tools, tips, and strategies to help you make a difference in your school and community.
    • The book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most is a useful tool for any person or group who is learning how to talk about tough topics productively.


    Adamu, M., & Hogan, L. (2015). Point of entry: The preschool-to-prison pipeline. Retrieved from

    Capatosto, K. (2015). Implicit bias strategies. Kirwan Institute. Retrieved from

    Devine, P. G., Forscher, P. S., Austin, A. J., & Cox, W. T. (2012). Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(6), 1267-1278.

    Great Schools Partnership (2016). Disproportionality. The glossary of education reform. Retrieved from

    Great Schools Partnership (2016). Equity. The glossary of education reform. Retrieved from

    Elementary & Middle Schools Technical Assistance Center. (n.d.). Disproportionality: The disproportionate representation of racial and ethnic minorities in special education: Frequently asked questions. EMSTAC.

    Gillam, W. (2005). Pre-kindergarteners Left Behind: Expulsion Rates in State Prekindergarten Programs. FCD Policy Brief Series, 3, 1-8. Retrieved from

    Gilliam, W. S., Maupin, A. N., Reyes, C. R., Accavitti, M., & Shic, F. (2016). Do Early Educators’ Implicit Biases Regarding Sex and Race Relate to Behavior Expectations and Recommendations of Preschool Expulsions and Suspensions? Yale Child Study Center. New Haven, CT.

    Losen, D. (2011). Discipline policies, successful schools, and racial justice. National Education Policy Center. Retrieved from

    Maupin, A. N., Reyes, C. R., Accavitti, M., & Shic, F. (2016). Do Early Educators’ Implicit Biases Regarding Sex and Race Relate to Behavior Expectations and Recommendations of Preschool Expulsions and Suspensions? Yale Child Study Center. New Haven, CT.

    National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments. (2016). School Climate. American Institutes for Research: National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments. Retrieved from

    National Education Association (2008). Promoting Educators’ Cultural Competence to better serve culturally diverse students. An NEA Policy Brief. NEA Human and Civil Rights Department. Washington DC. Retrieved online from:

    Pearson, A. R., Dovidio, J. F. and Gaertner, S.L. (2009). The nature of contemporary prejudice: Insights from aversive racism. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3, 314-388. Journal compilation. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

    Russ, E. (2014). Zero tolerance, zero benefits: the discipline gap in American public k-12 education. New voices in public policy. George Mason University School of Public Policy. Retrieved from

    Skiba, R. J., Poloni-Staudinger, L., Simmons, A. B., Feggins-Azziz, L. R., & Choong-Geun, C. (2005). Unproven Links: Can Poverty Explain Ethnic Disproportionality in Special Education? Journal of Special Education, 39(3), 130–144.

    Smolkowski, K., Girvan, E. J., McIntosh, K., Nese, R. N., & Horner, R. (2016). Vulnerable Decision Points for Disproportionate Office Discipline Referrals: Comparisons of Discipline for African American and White Elementary School Students.

    Sullivan, A. L., Klingbeil, D. A., & Norman, E. R. Van. (2013). Beyond behavior: Multilevel analysis of the influence of sociodemographics and school characteristics on students’ risk of suspension. School Psychology Review, 42(1), 99–114.

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    1.8: Consider implementing a program- or school-wide multitiered system of support

    Multitiered systems icon

    Early education programs and schools can better meet children’s emotional and behavioral needs by being proactive and systematic. To help you and your staff be more proactive and systematic, think about adopting a program- or school-wide multitiered system of support (MTSS). No matter what you decide, focus on putting in place the policies and practices that promote children’s positive social-emotional development and reduce challenging behaviors that are identified in the other recommendations of this guide. In elementary schools, studies have found that school-wide multitiered systems of support reduced discipline referrals and suspensions and helped fifth-graders do better in school. In early childhood settings, research has found that multitiered systems of support helped improve social skills and reduce challenging behaviors. Using a multitiered system of support in your program will help provide supports to prevent challenging behaviors. This might include changing the classroom environment (see Recommendation 2.2) and promoting positive social-emotional development (see Recommendation 2.3). It will help identify children who need stronger or more customized supports to address challenging behaviors through developmental screening (see Recommendation 1.3), functional behavior assessment, and behavior support plans (Recommendation 3.1).

    A multitiered system of support (MTSS) is a comprehensive framework for organizing practices into different levels, or tiers, to provide the differentiated supports for all children to succeed in inclusive and natural environments. In an MTSS, the first tier (universal) includes those practices and core instruction that promote the positive social-emotional development of all children. The second tier (targeted/secondary) includes targeted practices that identify and address needs of children at risk for challenging behaviors. The third tier (intensive/tertiary) includes practices for providing individualized, more intensive interventions to children with persistent challenging behaviors. Additional key features of an MTSS include universal screening, progress monitoring, and data-informed decision-making. Examples of an MTSS include the Pyramid Model and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

    To help decide if you should use an MTSS and which one you would like to adopt for your program/school, access the following resources:

    How do I do this?

    Step 1. Choose a diverse team to provide input. When you talk about starting a multitiered system of supports (MTSS) or any new curricula, assemble a diverse team that represents your staff and families well. This team should include yourself, providers/teachers, and other relevant program/school partners. This type of decision-making structure makes it more likely that everyone involved will be committed to the ultimate decisions you make.

    Step 2. Consider key questions with the team. With your diverse team, think about these key questions to guide your ultimate decision about whether to adopt an MTSS:

    • Has the MTSS been adopted successfully by programs/schools like ours?
    • What does it take to fully implement the MTSS?
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    • What are the costs—money and time—to fully implement the MTSS with fidelity?


    If your program/school decides to implement a multitiered system of support framework, continue to step 3.

    Step 3. Promote buy-in and commitment to implement the MTSS framework consistently. If you think it is right for your program, implement an MTSS framework that fits well with challenging behaviors you see at your school and the program/school context (see program-specific resource websites below). Once an MTSS framework has been chosen, the team should take the following steps to promote buy-in and fidelity of implementation:

    • Have a formal kickoff.
    • Put the program in place and schedule training.
    • Decide what steps program/school leadership will take to support fidelity of implementation and sustainability.
    • Acknowledge progress and excellent implementation.

    Vignette 1: At the Blue Bonnet Early Childhood Development Center, when staff complete their Pyramid training, they are recognized at the weekly staff meeting and given a graduation certificate. Once trained, the staff each set goals for their Teaching Pyramid Model Observation Tool (TPOT) scores. When staff meet their goals, they are given a Lunch on Me! Certificate.

    Vignette 2: At the Little River preschool program, administrators and other staff give out “gotchas” to acknowledge use of PBIS practices. The name of the staff member observed implementing a practice is written on a slip of paper and put into a shoe box. Every two weeks, the program holds a drawing and the chosen staff member gets to select one of the following rewards:

    • Coverage to leave 30 minutes early one day
    • Coverage for recess/outside play duty for one day
    • Coverage for a 45-minute lunch off campus
    • Privilege of using the Reserved Parking spot for two weeks

    • Assess progress and new needs.

    What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

    Potential Barrier: I’ve heard of multitiered systems of support, but it seems like adding an MTSS framework is a BIG deal and overwhelming.
    Solution: An MTSS framework can actually help your program/school streamline and organize the practices, curricula, or interventions you already offer to be aligned at each level of the MTSS to children’s needs. This often this means you are NOT adding curricula as much as ensuring you have the proper level of support for each tier. If it is implemented thoughtfully, an MTSS framework can simplify and align processes.

    Potential Barrier: I need resources for providing training and professional development on multitiered systems of support.
    Solution: If you are part of or affiliated with a local or state public preschool program, your school or district might have already have implemented a tiered system of support. If so, you are most likely entitled to have your staff access or be provided trainings for little or no cost. The PBIS Center website and Pyramid Model website provide a variety of free resources, but the framework you select should have training and professional development materials and offerings available.

    Potential Barrier: My program doesn’t have the resources or funding.
    Solution: Your local Child Care Resource and Referral agency can help you find local free and low-cost training opportunities. They can also help you find grants for additional funding and resources. You can locate Child Care Resource and Referral agencies in your area through Child Care Aware’s search tool. Its State by State Resource Map can point you in the right direction for local resources on child care, health and social services, financial assistance, support for children with special needs, and more.

    Potential Barrier: My staff are resistant to adopting new practices.
    Solution: Engaging staff in exploration and decision-making processes promotes buy-in and makes it more likely that all interested parties—staff and families—will be committed to the ultimate decision. Communicate to staff that investment in the MTSS model reduces behavioral incidences and increases children’s engagement, learning time, and children’s acquisition of skills.

    Potential Barrier: We’ve tried implementing evidence-based practices or curricula before, but it doesn’t last.
    Solution: Support the ongoing implementation of practices. Evidence shows that providing a one-time training without follow-up implementation supports is not effective. It is also crucial to integrate practices into everyday activities and build them into the daily schedule, with support or mentoring from coaches or peer teachers invaluable for reflection and practice change.

    Where do I go for more resources?


    Bradshaw, C., Mitchell, M., & Leaf, P. (in press). Examining the effects of school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports on student outcomes: Results from a randomized controlled effectiveness trial in elementary schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions.

    Hemmeter, M. L., Fox, L., & Hardy, J. K. (2016). Supporting the Implementation of Tiered Models of Behavior Support in Early Childhood Settings. In Handbook of Early Childhood Special Education (pp. 247-265). Springer International Publishing.

    Gettinger, M. & Stoiber, K. C. (2006). Functional assessment, collaboration, and evidence-based treatment: Analysis of a team approach for addressing challenging behaviors in young children. Journal of School Psychology, 44(3), 231-252.

    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Education (2014). Policy statement on expulsion and suspension in early childhood settings.

    Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL). How to choose a social-emotional curriculum. How do I decide? Series of guidelines. Accessed from

    Lane, K.L., Menzies, H.M., Kalberg, J.M., & Oakes, W.P. (2012). A comprehensive, integrated three-tier model to meet students’ academic, behavioral, and social needs In K.R. Harris, S. Graham, T. Urdan, A.G. Bus, S. Major, & H.L. Swanson (Eds) APA educational psychology handbook, Vol 3: Application to learning and teaching (pp. 551-581). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Minic, M., Smith, B. J., and Strain, P. (2009). Administrator strategies that support high fidelity implementation of the Pyramid Model for promoting social-emotional competence & addressing challenging behavior. Issue Brief. Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention (TACSEI). Retrieved from

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